Clemence Housman

The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis - Chapter III


NACIEN the Hermit, gathering worts high up on Wenlock Edge, saw a knight come riding below, followed far behind by one afoot, running, stooping, shunning the open. Over rough and smooth rode the knight spurring hard. The jaded horse stumbling on broken ground, fell and did not rise; whereat suddenly he pulled out his sword, and rove that good beast through the body. Forward on his feet he started in a hasty aimless fashion; his shield he flung away, then his helm; piece by piece he stripped off his harness, and cast it from him.

"Now see I," said Nacien, "that a fiend rides him." And he went down to meet him till the sound of groaning came to his ears and words of blasphemy. The secret follower came nearer, saw the old man ahead, and stood up with a gesture of warning. Right so the knight caught sight of him.

Brose turned to flee, for Aglovale made fiercely after him with his sword drawn. Brief was the chase: Brose missed footing, fell, rose up lamed, faced round on his master, and held up entreating hands. In vain: deep into his side bit the relentless sword. For a moment Aglovale looked on the fallen man, then his reddened blade he flung afar, and kneeling he tried to staunch the bleeding life.

"It was foully done," said Nacien. "Go you, murderer, and bring water." And Aglovale went like a bidden child.

Even with that first look on the two men Nacien knew that his work lay rather with the soul of the one than the body of the other.

But for Aglovale he could do nothing till Brose had taken good hold of life. Neither day nor night would that unhappy master quit his man; scarcely would he speak or eat, and sleep he did not till on the third night Nacien beguiled him with a drink.

Then said Brose weakly, "For the love of God help my master lest he die of his shut heart." And when Nacien commended his devotion so evilly rewarded: "Nay," said Brose, "he had threatened and I had promised. In following I broke my word; his my master kept."

But of counsel and consolation Aglovale took as little heed as of admonition and rebuke, till the day came when Nacien told him Brose was sure of recovery. Then he was moved to blessings and thankings and promises for gratitude, and the
good man, seeing his time, with grave authority called on him
to confess his sins.

Aglovale looked at him darkly. "I want no absolution," he said.

"My son," said Nacien, "I bid you to penance in confession."

"Yea, that I want," said Aglovale, after long silence.

"In the name of God!" said Nacien.
Aglovale did not kneel. He stood up and bore the light of day and Nacien's eyes through all. His tongue failed him at first. "Gilleis!" he said, and stopped dumb, struggling.

"In the name of God!" repeated Nacien.

Once more the wretched man said "Gilleis!" And further, "Her I did not ravish.

"Two men knocked at midnight and asked her pity on one sore wounded; and she being a lone maid feared to unbar. Yet because of their need and the bitter frost, and because they swore steadily her maidenhood should get no hurt, her pity was so wrought upon that she gave them entrance. And she did also all service she could for him wounded; for he asked her to ransack his wounds in knee and breast. So first she unbound his knee and salved and dressed it, and greatly he complained the while of the wound in his breast. So very softly she handled the bindings; but as she drew off the last fold there was no blood, and on the breast uncovered there was no wound. Whole he was but for a prick in the knee. Like a bird she went to the door as Brose shot in the outside bolts. She stood and put her hands over her face, and I watched her and never stirred. And after a while she said, Why had I done so? I said, for want of her pity on the great wound in my breast, and greatly I complained.

"She had eyes like a heifer's that could not show anger. Her hair was wheat-brown. Her skin was like lime blossom, and as sweet was the scent she gave. God never made woman-flesh more quick and tender to the influence of man. Though I never touched her I troubled her, and she writhed and drew her mantle around.

"She put me in mind of my oaths, and I said until they were broken I was not forsworn. Yet she lamented for her good name; and then I reached out my sword to her, and bade her make it good on me if she chose. Yet I played with her then, knowing that she could not. And when she put the pommel between her feet and felt the point with her hands, I laughed, knowing this also she could not do. And at that she wept, and her tears Gilleis even for her tears I never stirred. But she had to hear, and she could not hide.

"So I told her how, lying hurt, I had looked down from a window, and had seen her kiss given to a tall squire, as never
had a kiss been given to me. And I told her how I would have had her by force, had I loved her but as I had loved others. She answered that her squire was now a knight; and was I so base, she said, as to shun knightly contest, when she doubted not he would prove upon me that he was the better man of his hands. I said I had done enough with woman on the grave of lord or lover to know that not so ever would sweet kindness freely given touch my lips; that way came only light love or heavy curses. I said I could not boast to be better of my hands than he, as I had not tried him. Yea, he had good looks for her eye, a good name for her ear, while I was swart and halt, and I was he called Sinister. But he had no force to love her as I loved ; and I would for one night so possess her eye and her ear that she could not choose but know I loved her better than he. And that was true. She looked at me and covered her face and held her peace. Though by falsity I won her, that was true.

"She had to hear, and she could not hide. But in the end I grew ashamed and repented; and before dawn I confessed all: how her solitude that night had been contrived by force and fraud; and how by means of Brose I had ensured that my going should be spied to defame her; and how I hoped after to carry on the game. But I told her that now the bolts had been long withdrawn, and while dawn was far I would take myself away to prevent my own mischief. 'God amend all,' said Gilleis, as I went.

"Now when I issued to the night all the world was white with snow. Then I hardened my heart as I left my tracks upon it. And the skies had no ruth. At dawn a boatman found me fallen, and lifted me down to the river; and I left amends to God and went with the stream.

"Her knight, Sir Berel, lay in Ireland held at ransom. A poor man he was, and Gilleis la Orpheline, in ward of an old knight his father, had been living meanly to buy him free. Now when after many days Brose traced me out, he brought word how my footprints had undone her, for her tale was incredible to the old man, and he cursed her for his son and departed. And soon after he died. I turned again, and vowed to her I would do anything she should require. She was so gentle I never heard a hard word, but then she did require a hard penance. For slander she cared little, except at the ears of the two most dear to her, of whom one was now dead; and her request was that I should pass to Ireland, and acknowledge my treason to her knight under oath, and abide by his ruling. I said this was not according to the course of knightly usage. She urged no further and asked no more, so I swore to it and went.

"Methought as I went I heard devils laughing at what should come; but lo! when I had told him all, he believed me! Knowing my name and my ill-fame, yet he believed me! A good knight he was and courteous; but I came away sore and angry because he would not promise so much as to break a spear on me when he might dispose of his body; for he said as I had made amends in better sort than by way of arms, he declined to require it otherwise. So I left him unransomed and came again to this land.

"Then I went to tell Gilleis how I had sped. But I lied. I had told him all truly, I said; and no, I said, he did not believe me. I kissed her in her swoon to seal the lie.

"It came to pass before the year was out, Brose laid me again at her gate, wounded in deep earnest. I cried out when I saw her that I would not keep those terms, that rather than burn through such another night I would take the frost. Yet when I opened my eyes to life, Gilleis was there tending me; and for many days Gilleis. And before I had strength to take she gave.
"Her most sweet affection once mine, grew passing well, and
was the dearer under peril of instant bitter ending. Before long Brose brought me word of that knight Sir Berel; by the good offices of the first of Irish knights Sir Marhaus, he was at liberty and returning. Then I took horse and rode down to the Marches to await him at the Forest Cross-roads. For two days I watched there till he came. He came bound hand and foot, laid across the saddle. In like manner two followed behind. I knew him, for his beaver was broken away; me he knew by my arms. In God's name he called on me to remember my offers, and to help them from a foul knight and a murderous, who had overcome them. He besought me to turn from ado and rather carry warning of their case to Sir Marhaus, who followed nigh, for this knight was so big of his hands that few might match him. I knew well who drove them so: that was Sir Turquine, brother to Sir Carados, whom Launcelot met and slew as so he drove Sir Gaheris. He smote foully at the bound man as he rode past him to come at me. Then I turned and fled, and laughed as I rode. And in a little while I escaped from Sir Turquine and came to the open. Then I lamed my horse, and rode on again at a soft pace till I met a big knight, no other than Sir Marhaus. We saluted, and he asked me of three knights who were of his fellowship. I told him that beyond the river I had seen one knight, driving three before him, bound across their horses; and I taught him the way contrary, and excused myself from him because my horse was lame. So misguided he departed.

"And I deemed I should keep the love of sweet Gilleis, for I knew more than a little of the ways of Sir Turquine, and that
knights who fell into his hands were seen no more.

"Though by frauds I won her and kept her, I would not have her fastened to me by any bond but her free love, and spite of her woman's wish we never came to wedlock. Then came promise of another bond. I carried her to Cardigan, and there the summer months ran over with such bounty of love no word can tell, and half I thought no bolt would ever strike me for my sins.

"On a windy day, looking out, I saw Sir Marhaus ride past to take the sea for Ireland. The one I feared to see was not among his company. So I turned and kissed Gilleis with a glad heart. I kissed her never again living or dead. Then I took horse, and I saw, as I rode the heights, the ship labour out to sea and dwindle away. I rode far that day, and fought and slew because I was light of heart.

"But meanwhile the winds were so strong and contrary that the ship put back for Galis, and about sundown fell to wreck on the bar. All this Gilleis spied from her tower, and she sent down her barge and a messenger, praying all to return to take lodging. And when Sir Marhaus was come, spent with sickness and the sea, Gilleis herself in her kindness came into the hall to ask how he did. I came homing, and from without I saw her bright head pass, and being glad I called to her by name; and she looked out smiling. Now when Sir Marhaus heard her name he considered her well, and asked her of her grace to tell him if she were Gilleis la Orpheline; and she said, 'Aye.' And seeing how she was girdled high, he deemed all was well and asked eagerly after his friend Sir Berel, and how he had sped out of peril in the Marches. Her eyes filled at his name, and she said she knew naught of that. Then he held her in blame, letting her know of her knight's good faith, and lamented for him, supposing him to have been shamefully slain. I entered and stood at gaze, and Gilleis stood and looked at me. He knew me by my arms, and saluted; and as I made no return, he
put me in mind of our meeting, and what had passed between
us. All white she was. She stood looking into my face.

"She put her hands to her girdle. 'Lie still, lie still!' she said, and fell down.

"Afterwards she sent for me, and meekly prayed me to tell her the whole truth. Yet of her own wit she knew it already. So I kneeled by her and told her all, as it had been an old dream. She turned her head and lay quiet and never spoke to me more. And before long, having put from her untimely the burden she had of me, she died. And I have buried her.

"She loved me best. Had she loved him so, I deem she surely could have lived. She loved me best, and therefore has she died.

"Curse me! You, Sir Nacien, if you have the gift to draw curses, speed now on me the worst curses you know."

Nacien the Hermit spoke for consolation: "Doubt not," he said, "but that God shall reward you for your sins."

"The right avenger is dead," said Aglovale, heavily. "While I buried her he died. Sir Marhaus turned back on a quest through the Marches, and there shortly he met with Sir Turquine, and fared no better than others before him: overcome, stripped naked, beaten with thorns, prisoned underground.
"There in prison he found his friend, whose two fellows were dead, who was then near death, who died that same night. On the morrow Sir Turquine was slain by Sir Launcelot.

"I also went and sought the Marches for Sir Turquine or any there appointed to slay me. I found my brother Sir Durnor. Sir Turquine had dealt with him. He told me how Sir Berel was dead, but he could not tell me where Sir Marhaus had gone. So I left him complaining that I would not stay.

"Sir Marhaus, when he stood and told me how he had spoken with Gilleis, looked as my father King Pellinore looked when once he struck me. And he excused himself from my roof and went out straight. He did not put me to any question. He left me untouched. He was not quite ready to slay me then; but surely now he should be ready. Yet Sir Marhaus and I have not met again."

Suddenly Aglovale writhed, waved out his sword, and fell to raving blasphemously that he would not take his death of any man of less worship than Sir Lamorak his brother; and rushing out like one possessed, he went shouting for Sir Marhaus over the hillside, and Nacien saw him no more till another morn.

So began the healing of Aglovale. Day by day the holy man handled him to ransack all his life and discover his bane; gentle and severe, compassionate and unsparing, he found the
way to win of that perverse nature trust and reverence. Before
Brose was whole the Hermit was ware of the meekest penitent
that ever he ordered, who followed him in prayer and fasting
and hearing Mass daily. Nacien also gave him a cilice for wear that he put off neither by day nor night. Brose fretted seeing his master go so lean, and warned him he was in no case to win worship.

"Hold your peace," said Aglovale, "nor tempt me."

Then Nacien called him, seeing him fit to be instructed of the spiritual knighthood. He declared the virtue of perfect faith and a pure spirit that should achieve more than strength and hardihood; while every blow given should yield praise to God, and every blow taken should yield prayer; when overthrow could touch no shame, and excellence no vainglory. He said also that those of this holy knighthood should slay no man unhappily by misadventure, nor should any of a good life get wound of them, for the grace of God should be in their hands, because they should be maidens clean of life and heart.

"Alas, alas!" said Aglovale.

Further, Nacien spoke by prophecy of the best knight of the world, who should do marvels without fail; and of the visitation of the Holy Grail, that all should follow and none
should see, save he and his fellows, the pure and the chaste. And while Aglovale bowed down his head and wept to hear,
there entered his heart vision of his young brother Percivale,
with a giving of love and worship for the boy's innocence and
truth. He vowed then that never should Percivale learn any harm by him.

All this Nacien gave him to know to confirm him in humility against his old lust for earthly worship and his envy. He warned him in chief against envy of his brother Sir Lamorak. Aglovale withstood him.

"My brother Sir Lamorak I do and ever shall above all men love and worship. Is this envy?"

His old passion took him hard suddenly. "Ah, Lamorak, Lamorak!" he cried, "but little love have you for me and no worship. Ah, Lamorak!" And tears and blood sprang from him.

He was brought to sounder conditions by the day of departure, for Nacien, seeing his danger, not only showed him how envy had sent him upon evil courses, but also how his natural affections were disordered and mischievous.

Said Aglovale, "Yet God made me so."

"Nay," said Nacien, "you are not made, but making. One only came made from the womb. Not before the day of your death will God have made you."

"Pray for me," said Aglovale at the last, on his knees asking blessing. "Pray to the high Father that He hold me in His service. While I am alive pray for me, and when I am dead, pray some prayers more or less for my soul."

The holy man blessed him, and promised him then, that if he amended his life well, God should grant him his death by the hand of a right noble knight, and so sent him from the peaceful height down to be proved of the world.

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